This is probably not the time you’d expect to hear anyone say, “There’s no industry I’d rather work in right now than aging services.”
I’ve been a part of this industry since my college days. And without a doubt, since COVID-19 in February began to change the way we live and work, I’ve been immeasurably grateful to be a part of an organization that provides care and services to a group of individuals who are our most vulnerable — and our most valued.
Serving older adults is, at all times, a privilege and a responsibility, and COVID-19 hasn’t changed either of those things. The majority of our clients and residents have seen hard times, and making it through personal, professional, social and even global difficulties has enabled them to be not only resilient but also sensible, reasonable and unflaggingly optimistic.
Don’t get me wrong; our residents are individuals, and each is processing the new protocols of daily life in the age of COVID-19 in his or her own way. But unlike some of us who may be a little more impatient, many of our residents would be likely to end a conversation about our current situation with, “Have faith; this too will pass.”
So when I think about our frontline team members — our nurses, certified nursing assistants, therapists, culinary and housekeeping employees, and so many more — my first emotion, of course, is one of concern. Just as long-term care communities are being hit especially hard by this virus, those serving in those communities are tremendously affected as well. We all want our team members to remain safe and healthy, and we are doing everything we can as an organization to help ensure that happens.
Along with concern, however, what I feel equally strongly is a tremendous sense of pride. Our team members are continuing to do their jobs to the best of their abilities because they know they are needed — but they also are here because of the degree to which they appreciate the people they serve. Ask anyone in any facet of aging services what he or she loves most about the job, and the answer is almost always, “the residents” or “the clients,” followed by an explanation of just how wonderful it is to work among such wisdom and such hope. Both of those are sorely needed now.
The media are portraying senior living communities as war zones — and believe me, I feel nothing but solidarity with any community where residents and team members are suffering. This virus does not discriminate, and none of us wakes in the morning with the certainty that we won’t be next.
I am most thankful to those news outlets, though, that are telling stories of the joy and gratitude that are emanating from the communities that make up our industry — and the team members who are working more diligently than they’ve ever worked to keep residents and clients connected with loved ones, to help keep them hopeful, and to provide them with temporary families.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds proclaimed April 19-25 “Careers in Aging Week” in our state, and the week was observed in many places around the world. Last week was a special time to recognize the skilled, compassionate and brave men and women who place their own concerns aside every day to provide needed services and care to a high-risk population.
It also was a time to increase awareness of the senior living industry as a professionally rewarding one — today more than yesterday, and tomorrow more than today. Gov. Reynolds’ proclamation praised the aging services professional as one who is “on the front line, fighting to turn the tide of the coronavirus pandemic,” and I have no doubt that as our team members stop to offer a kind word to a resident who is missing her family or set up a Zoom call with a client’s grandchildren, that team member is helping to flatten the curve and to reinforce that there is, indeed, reason to hope.
I received an email last week from a team member who wanted me to be aware of the efforts of someone who works alongside him. “Natasha makes residents and team members reassured that things are going great and going to get better,” he wrote. “A resident has referred to her as ‘a gift from above,’ and another one called her an angel.”
I’m proud to work among many such angels and to understand how rewarding it can be to know that one’s daily work can make a tremendous difference in the lives of people who are so deserving — right now, our most vulnerable … but always, our most valued. During Careers in Aging Weeks and all weeks, aging services professionals everywhere deserve our thanks.